The world is full of beautiful paintings, but, unfortunately, the average person will never get to see most of it in person. Photographs of well-known artwork are easy to come by, of course, but they don’t offer the same level of detail as an in-person visit. Google changed that with its ultra-high-resolution images of paintings, making the photos available on the Google Cultural Institute website. The photography process for this project was going too slowly, though, so Google created its own robotic camera to speed things up.
That camera is simply called the “Art Camera,” as it was created to take gigapixel-resolution images of classic artwork. The robotic camera speeds up the process greatly, and has enabled Google to take ultra-high-resolution photos at a much faster rate. As such, the Google Cultural Institute is now home to more than 1,000 pieces of artwork versus the 200 or so that were available before the creation of Art Camera.
Unlike ordinary high-resolution photographs, Art Camera photos feature a massive gigapixel resolution, enabling viewers to zoom in very closely on the artwork, seeing the fine brush strokes and tiny dabs in great detail sans pixelation or artifacts. This presents students and art-lovers alike with a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with famous far-away classics.
The Art Camera features a robotic system that takes a camera and positions it near a piece of artwork, repositioning it each time it takes a photo; by the end of the process, the Art Camera will have taken hundreds of close-up images of the artwork in high-resolution. Those batches of photos are then stitched together to create a single massive photograph.
The process is quite a bit more technical than what you’d get with an ordinary camera; Google has equipped the system with sonar and laser to ensure each image is perfectly focused for the individual brushstrokes.
The work, of course, is more important than just giving us a way to check out art from the comfort of our laptops. The process helps preserve paintings in fine details so that future generations — those living at a time when light and exposure may have degraded the physical paintings — are able to see the pieces in all their glory.
Google says it is providing museums around the globe with free access to these cameras so they can preserve their own unique items.
As for the casual user, you can check out the photographs on the Google Cultural Institute website; current photos include works by Monet, Signac, Van Gogh, and Pissarro, among others.